I write every day, even though most of it doesn’t make it to the blog. It’s something I do as part of my self- care routine, and I’ve seen a major change in my mental health since starting. My writing prompt for today was “someone who inspires you.” This is a perfect example of a topic that normally would be kept to myself, since it isn’t directly relevant to wellness. The more I thought about this person, the more I realized how important it was to share my feelings about her. Something that first appeared as irrelevant began to fall into place, and quickly picked up momentum and importance. I now know that this topic is everything in wellness. This person took care of me when I was sick, tried to raise me nutritionally sound, and has always supported my emotional health. This person, of course, is my mom.
My mom is 59 years old, and for most of that time people have taken her for granted. They assume she is easily capable of much more than she has, but she is constantly pushing herself to the limit to meet and exceed their expectations. From the outside, maybe it looks like she has it easy. If it does, it’s because of her poise and grace. In fact, she has not had an easy life. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s just an undying need to take care of others, but this woman often shorts herself to keep others happy.
My mom is one of six siblings, and was born right in the middle. Even as a kid she had a ton of responsibilities, and carried more stress than a child should. She was a Navy BRAT, and moved all around the country several times. Living on just my grandfather’s income, the family of eight had a tight budget. These things aren’t ideal, but they shaped her.
When I was very young, I had a group of extended family members living under one roof. I don’t remember exactly if someone asked her for help or if she did it on her own, but there was an issue feeding everyone in the house that night. Without a second thought, she grabbed the keys and we headed to the grocery store. She didn’t have as much in her wallet as people expected, but she was smart. When we first walked into that store she didn’t know how she was going to pull it off. I remember brainstorming some options; pasta was super cheap. Hotdogs, mac and cheese, canned raviolis. She knew there was no nutritional value to these things. How could she get the most for her money, and feel good about what she was serving? All of a sudden, her expression shifted from stressed to inspired. I could practically see the cartoon light bulb go off next to her head. She picked up a bunch of eggs, cheese, bread, milk and butter. These five staples stretched far for her money, and gave the kids a pretty wide range of options. She got to the house ready to whip up scrambled eggs, french toast or even grilled cheese. At least there was a little protein and calcium there. When we left, she was happy. She had helped, and she could relax knowing her family was fed. I know that we went home to a house with food on the table that night. We had heat, electricity and a stable place to live- but these things don’t come easy, and she worked for every dime she put into keeping us afloat.
Those dimes slowly but surely added up, but it was like working for individual grains of sand to make a mountain. It wasn’t just money either, my mom had dreams that were always so difficult to obtain. She always kept pushing until she reached some version of what she desired.
My mom wanted a baby, badly. She watched others become teenage parents and bring children into the world without trying. She wondered why these babies came so easily for people who were unprepared, but she had her ducks in a row and it still just wouldn’t happen. She’d worked hard for a stable life- so why couldn’t she have this one thing that she really wanted? It weighed heavy on her emotional health. After a very long wait and loss, she tried IVF. She was told her procedure had failed, and she mourned another cycle wasted. Surprise! Finally, something had gone in her favor. She was pregnant with me, and she was elated. While others were gifted children easily (and for free) my mom stretched herself to the limit to get what she wanted. It took more time, more work, and in 1989 IVF was not cheap – but she made it happen. Finally, a grain of sand!
When I was really young we lived in a teeny, tiny house in a crowded neighborhood. We had a sex offender living just a few houses down, and once again my mom felt shorted. She’d worked hard saving for her home. She moved in with certain expectations, then realized the flaws. The houses were so close together that we heard the neighbors across the street fighting daily. There wasn’t much space in the home, so she turned the dining room into a nursery for me. She always said it was the size of the house that made her want to move, but I don’t think she ever slept easy with a pedophile living in the neighborhood. She set herself a new goal, and started dreaming of raising me in her ideal home.
I’m not sure my parents ever saw each other in my younger years. Every memory I have was either with my mom during the day, or my dad at night. My mom put herself through community college for nursing, raised me, and worked overnights to support us. My dad worked days, and spent the evenings with me. I never really noticed my mom being stressed or tired. It wasn’t until I grew up and became a parent myself that I started to realize what she went though. Those days were long and stressful, but she never let me see it. She always had time for me, always seemed happy, and always put out this image of having her shit together.
Through all the rough cards she was dealt, she basically faced them alone. I only remember meeting one friend of hers, and they grew apart after having kids. She didn’t let her guard down often with her family, and didn’t see much of my father due to their work schedules. She sucked it up, and usually internalized it.
Eventually she finished school, and started to conquer her ambition of finding the perfect home. We put our house on the market, and mentally prepared ourselves for a better situation. Naturally, nothing went smoothly. The stress and time demand only increased as I started dance lessons, ice skating and school. The house had to be kept spotless at all times in case the realtor stopped by with an interested buyer. That tiny little plate became more and more full, and I don’t know when she ever found time to sleep.
The house went on and off the market for what seemed like forever. We tried a few home renovations to make it seem more appealing, and just kept saving for when our opportune home did finally come to us. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my play dough, and my mom sat next to me filling a binder with magazine clippings. She saved everything that she liked, every home and garden article and a ton of photo inspiration. It was basically Pinterest in the 90’s. Some nights I caught her hunched over the binder, once even crying. It was another grain of sand weighing heavily on her heart. I think this was the first time I really noticed that she had big dreams, but they weren’t easy to obtain. I saw the frustration with the process, and the hopes getting higher and higher. I was starting to think the day would never come where she’d get what she wanted.
She built the home she wanted. She put her savings and her dreams into that house. Moving in was probably the most exciting thing about my childhood, because my mom was truly happy. I wish I could say things got easier from there, but they didn’t.
As an only child, I got bored often. The house was quiet, still usually just two of us in it at a time. I ran her ragged with swim team, skating, girl scouts, horseback riding, clarinet lessons and a few attempted seasons of assorted sports. She was tired, really tired. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t keep up, so I developed a lying problem to spice things up. Sometimes it was just my craving for attention in a quiet house. Other times I wanted to appear more interesting at school, and cover up my bland home life. Either way, I started a ton of problems. Even when I grew out of the lying, I kept pushing her buttons. I was a well behaved student, but came home as a tornado. Even when she took me to therapists, my bipolar disorder went undiagnosed. That quiet, shy girl who lacked confidence in public was a violent, angry mess at home. I took a swing at her multiple times, and damaged the house. I knew how hard she worked for it, and how deep it cut her to watch it become less and less perfect. Every time we battled I went right for the kill, and tried to inflict as much hurt as I could. She didn’t deserve it, at all. I just didn’t understand.
I moved out as soon as I could, and ran away to South Carolina. I hoped that starting fresh would give me a better chance at mental health success, but fell flat rather quickly. I got myself in some serious shit. The ambition of being independent and self sufficient was actually met with uncontrolled mania. I spent money like I had it, and met up with strangers all the time. I went on dates almost every night, and I have no idea how I escaped becoming another internet dating statistic. I met Jacen’s father and ended up pregnant just weeks after relocating.
It broke her heart to find out I was pregnant. Even more so when she realized his father was a total scumbag. Pile on that I quit school, and ended up moving back home with her. I was a complete disaster, and yet she seemed to forgive it instantly when she met my son. She was in the operating room during my c-section, and will never let me forget that she held my baby before anyone else. That moment forged an incredible bond, and she’s been the best Nana in the world ever since.
She held my hand and helped me get on my feet as a new parent. She stepped in with the baby when he was a newborn, and supported us while I attempted school. I ended up quitting college again, and started certificate classes for medical assisting. She took Jacen while I went to school, supported us financially, and even set me up in an apartment so I could start being an independent parent. Again, her savings dwindled as she took on both her own mortgage and my rent simultaneously.
Now that I’m grown up and in a good place, she has been able to relax into her role as a Nana instead of a co-parent. It doesn’t stop her from bailing me out when I get stuck, but at least Mike and I have it mostly together. She’s never stopped impressing me with her love and generosity for her grandchildren.
My mom hates animals. HATES them. She’s a nurse and super in tune with germs and disease, so she avoids those little bacteria factories like the plague. I mean, she totally appreciates their importance in the world, she just doesn’t want them in her little world. She doesn’t want to touch them or anything. That being said, I can’t begin to tell you the number of times she’s taken a deep breath and a gallon of Purell to make sure her grand babies take part in every experience they want. She’s endured farms, petting zoos, pony rides and so much more. I never thought I’d see her overcome her animal/bacteria phobia, but she has. I’ve even started to notice her smiling, even laughing through it. The things you can overcome for love.
Animals aren’t the only thing either. She’s put on a brave face through amusement park rides that make her nauseous, just to set an example for timid little Jacen. She’s slowly started to join in on the fun when we dress up, and even took a ride on a sled this winter. She’s constantly growing, and letting go of that guard she’s had up for so long. She worries less and less about how she looks to others, and cares about providing her grand kids with love and involvement.
My kids are her core source of happiness. I wish I could tell you that their existence solved all of her problems, but they didn’t. They just provide moments of joy, a break from working for those grains of sand. When she doesn’t have positive things to say, she doesn’t say anything. She releases minimal details about her personal life, and has become a woman of mystery to many of her loved ones. They don’t ask, and she doesn’t voluntarily tell- but I can assure you she’s working as hard as ever. Fifty nine years, and still, nothing comes easy. She’s still pushing through. She’s lost some of her supporters from years ago, but gained a new generation of people who love her. The problems still come up, but she faces them bravely. People still ask for help from her, assuming she has the means for it. Financially, emotionally, even just finding the available time- it can all be like getting blood from a stone, but she tries her best to find a way.
As I’ve grown and become a parent myself, I now have appreciation for all that she’s been through. I spend time feeling bad- it must have been so disappointing to want for a baby so long, and end up with me. She probably envisioned raising a perfect little girly girl, but ended up with an obese, ungrateful daughter with mental health issues. Even though I’ve done my best to change those things now, it doesn’t erase the trying years I put her through. I can only work to make the present as good as I can.
The stress is still snowballing, growing in size every day. It seems that once she finally accumulates a hill from all those individual grains of sand, a big, old, dirty boot stomps all over it. No matter how many times she starts over, she always finds the strength to keep pushing. For a long time, she carried most of that sand with little help. These days, she is exclusively moving it alone. I don’t know how she does it, but the kids and I are cheering her on, and loving her immensely with every grain she carries. She dreams of a day where she can proudly relax on top of her sand mountain, and a world where her grandchildren do not have to work as hard as she did. She is currently rebuilding from that dirty boot that knocked her down, but that mountain WILL come. She’ll make sure of it.
I hope you now see why I couldn’t just let this one sit unpublished. If you’re going through something, if you’re feeling alone, if your hill has been stomped- find her strength. Get back up, pick up that sand, and keep pushing. It isn’t about where you come from, what you’ve been given or the card you’ve been dealt. Happiness and success comes from perseverance and hard work. She’s always inspired me so much, let her inspire you too.
With healthy hearts,
Kate and the Kids.